Work From Home Tips From a Battle-scarred Veteran

I’ve been working from home full time for eleven years now. I’ve worked from “home” in Colorado, Kansas, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and France. I don’t expect I’ll be traveling any time soon, but I’ve got the scars and hard lessons learned about how to work from home effectively.

Set Boundaries

If you can, establish a specific space for your work-from-home activities. If you’re a work-a-holic, a big problem can be that the boundaries between your life and your time working for The Man start to blur. What’s it hurt to check your email at 9:30 PM at night? Ask me when you start waking up at 2 AM and checking them like clockwork. It’s a slippery slope, and you need boundaries. We need rest and recovery time from being in a work mindset. Human beings need leisure as much as we need income to survive, so try not to sacrifice one for the other.

One of the most important skills you’re going to learn when you work from home is how to maintain a sense of work-life balance. Start right away. Set a space and set regular hours. Give yourself a schedule and stick to it outside of emergencies. Your sense of well-being will thank me.

Take Regular Breaks

The Pomodoro technique is the death of flow for me, but I try to remember that I regularly need to get off my butt and move around. Stretch, pace, and at least twice a day, I take a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood. It’s very easy, when working at a computer, to let your entire body atrophy. Remind yourself with regular timers to move. You don’t want to have joint problems or RSI or any of that. You’ll have more energy.

Don’t Take Accidental Naps

It’s okay and even encouraged to nap, but you can lose a huge chunk of your day to an accidental nap. If you sit down on your couch for just a moment, that can easily turn into two hours. Don’t kid yourself; plan your naps if you want them. Try not to let them go on too long, or the guilty feeling will override any positive benefits you get from them.

Desk Snacking

With the pantry only maybe a dozen feet away from your workstation, the temptation to snack will be there. If you can’t avoid snacking while your work, don’t be like me; don’t take the entire bag to your desk; fill a bowl. Chances are, you won’t taste anything you eat, and you’ll definitely not be feeling good if you finish off an entire box of Girl Scout cookies at your desk. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Get Dressed, Maybe

This one will be controversial. One of the great things about working from home, assuming you don’t have a video conference meeting, is that you can dress as comfortably as you want. You can work in your pajamas, or in the nude (I recommend against snacking in the nude, though. Crotch-crumbs are no fun). However, I find it’s helpful to building a work mindset to put on something resembling a work outfit. I do not work in my pajamas because I just don’t find myself concentrating very well, because I’ve missed a habit. Habits have a way of nagging us if we don’t carry them on.

A lot of what you’re going to be doing in the early days is building good habits to keep yourself productive.

Don’t be a Slave to Productivity

One thing that was hard for me to realize was, I couldn’t actually work and bill for an eight hour day. The truth is, nobody in an office does eight hours of work a day under perfect circumstances, and you’re sure as hell not going to at home either. Realize that there are human constraints on your productivity. You can trade health for productivity (both mental and physical), but that’s a bad bargain, my friends. You will always end up regretting it.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks to chat with people. Make a social media post. Read a news article. Don’t let your entire day become that, again, we’re talking about building balance here.

Be Patient

You will find a natural rhythm over time, but you’re going to have to be patient, and you’re going to make mistakes, no matter how many articles like this one you read. That’s okay. You’re only human, and each day is a new chance to get better at it. Have some fun with it.

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